SAN DIEGO - The war of the light-truck niches heats up next year, and Ford Motor Co. plans to be ready.
The 2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac and F-150 SuperCrew combine traditional pickup cargo boxes with sport-utility cabins.
'We don't know how many segments there are in the (light-truck) category,' says George Murphy, Ford Division general marketing manager. 'We think there are still a few opportunities to define a segment with a new vehicle.'
Forty-six sport-utility models will compete for buyers in 2000, says Murphy. That number is expected to increase to 70 by 2005, he says.
The company showed the two new pickups to journalists here recently. The trucks go on sale in January.
RACE TO BE FIRST
The individual segments may be relatively small. Ford won't give an exact figure, but expects to sell between 50,000 and 100,000 Sport Tracs and a similar number of SuperCrews annually. The company is willing to spend hundreds of millions on new products and promotions to be first.
It spent $1 million just surveying potential Sport Trac buyers to find out who they are and what they want from a sport-utility pickup. Part of that information went into creating Ford's 'Ford Outfitters. No Boundaries,' a $50 million TV and print advertising campaign.
The promotion is an elaborate lifestyle campaign aimed at the outdoors-loving buyers the new vehicles are expected to attract.
'We know the audience is younger, has more professionals and more women,' Murphy says. 'We're trying to connect the people and the product from an emotional point of view.'
Ford launched the campaign Sept. 15 with national TV advertising featuring all of Ford's sport-utilities. The company also has paid for two separate versions of a 10-page advertising insert in several magazines, and is backing them up with smaller print ads. The company also is sponsoring some non-mainstream sports events, such as the Downhill Ski Series that began Dec. 3 in Beaver Creek, Colo.
The campaign also includes dealership displays and clothing that mimics on a smaller scale the successful 'Land Rover Centre' theme used by Land Rover North America Inc. That campaign has transformed some Land Rover dealerships into reproductions of African hunting lodges, replete with safari gear and an off-road test track.
Ford's effort plays up the image of its new trucks as go-anywhere carryalls of outdoor gear. This is especially true of the Sport Trac, which is designed to appeal to adventurers with a fold-out bed extender, nautical bed cleats for tying-down equipment and a mudproof rubber floor covering.
Dealers can currently order one of three showroom display packages developed by Ford. They focus on biking, camping or kayaking. The packages have related sports equipment supplied by vendors who have partnered with Ford.
To encourage dealers to participate, Ford is providing the first package free. Additional ones cost $300 to $500 apiece, Murphy says. He joined Ford this year after running marketing for General Electric Corp.'s light bulb business.
Some dealers buy more than one to change their displays with the seasons. 'The really good dealers have gone on their own to local sporting goods shops to set up joint displays,' he said. Ford expects 80 percent of its Sport Trac and SuperCrew volume to be sold from dealers using their displays, Murphy says.
The packages dovetail with a Ford Web site, www.fordoutfitters.com, launched Nov. 15. The site details some of Ford's joint marketing efforts with resorts and sporting goods makers. Ford plans to work some of the sporting goods into its growing truck-accessory catalog.